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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Antigay Vandalism — By the Superintendent of Newark Schools! My friend Gaetano sent me links to two blog mentions of a Star-Ledger story yesterday about Marion Bolden's ordering the defacing of a yearbook to black out with marker what she termed an "illicit" foto of two boys kissing. The foto itself appears in the Star-Ledger, along with this information:
While the students waited, staff members in another room blacked out the 4½-by-5-inch picture from approximately 230 books [which cost $85 each; that's vandalization of $19,550 of private property by a public official; a felony?].

"I don't understand," said [Andre] Jackson, 18 [one of the two students shown kissing, who paid $150 for that page in the yearbook]. "There is no rule about no gay pictures, no guys kissing. Guys and girls kissing made it in."

East Side's is like most high school yearbooks. About 80 pages in the roughly 100-page tome is dedicated to class photos, formal shots of seniors, candids and spreads dedicated to a variety of sports teams and academic clubs.

The back of the book is a collection of tributes where students designed pages filled with pictures depicting them with their families, girlfriends and boyfriends, and friends.

Rules for publication of the pages prohibited shots of gang signs, rude gestures and graphic photos, said Benilde Barroqueiro, an East Side senior graduating with Jackson.

"You know, it couldn't be too provocative. No making out, no tongue," she said.

Students were surprised when they opened their books and found Jackson's picture had been covered with marker, Barroqueiro said.

"He purchased the page and fell under the rules," she said. "If they want to kiss, that's their page. If you don't like it, don't look at it."
It seems a teenage girl has more sense than a middle-aged woman.
Note that this offense occurred during the runup to the 38th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, to be marked tomorrow, less than ten miles from East Side High, by the annual Gay Pride March in Manhattan that attracts hundreds of thousands of marchers and spectators. I was on the committee that organized the first such march, in 1970, and the term "Gay Pride" rather than the original "Christopher Street Liberation Day" attaches to that march because I offered that term in committee. Most of us on the first committee were scarcely more than kids, tho some were in their thirties. I was 25. Some of the stalwarts of The Movement have since died of the diseases of old age, never having lived a day without the discrimination we worked to end. Every now and then we think we've made progress — and then something like this happens.
"Benilde" is a name I was not familiar with, so I researched it on the Internet:
Origin: Derived from the German and composed from berno- "bear," and hildjo, "battle, war," and means "who fights for the good."
Very appropriate.
The first blog mention of this outrage I checked, carried a comment by someone who pointed out that the time to challenge a foto was before the money was accepted and the book printed, not after. That commentator also observed that some New Jersey employers are resisting the State's requirement that the partners in "civil unions" be granted the same rights as married people, which I had heard on TV last week. Such resistance must be crushed. It does, however, argue for converting the feeble "civil union" law into simple "marriage". That way, the simple box "Married" could be checked on forms of all kinds, and qualification for spousal benefits would be automatic. What do people who are 'civilly unioned' check? Hm. (By the way, I have seen both the awkward phrase "civilly unioned" and the more standard-English phrase "civilly united". I suspect those who use "civilly unioned" are making commentary on the awkward unnaturalness of that legal state. "Married" is so much more graceful, isn't it?)
Alas, New York State may beat NJ to the punch in legalizing simple gay "marriage", which would reduce the advantage in attracting prosperous gay couples to New Jersey, people who would contribute to the community but make minimal demands upon government services, such as schools.
I remarked to Gaetano:
DISGRACEFUL. If the objection was to the pose (with one guy behind the other, but fully clothed), the people in charge of the yearbook should have asked for a picture of the two face to face. If they didn't want to accept any foto, they should have said so before the guy paid for it, so he could either accept that and withhold his money — or sue the bastards, because antihomosexual discrimination is ILLEGAL in NJ. Marion Bolden should be ashamed of herself — and removed from office for violating the NJ Law Against Discrimination (LAD). There is no place in the Newark public schools for antihomosexual discrimination.
The second blogger, from Newark, rightly compared the discrimination in this incident to racial discrimination.
It's been noted that the bias seen today against homosexuals has parallels to discriminatory policies of the past. Consider if the administrators had blacked out a photo of an interracial kiss, and read the comments again. It's the same attitudes, by the same sorts of people, just in a new era. We've made a lot of progress on the civil rights and tolerance frontier (this couple is probably not in danger of being lynched) but to continue making progress it's necessary to be aware of and condemn behavior like this.
I left the following comment at that blog:
The superintendent's behavior was not just rude. It was also ILLEGAL. The New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (LAD) bars discrimination on the basis of "affectional or sexual orientation". See this official webpage of the State of New Jersey: http://www.state.nj.us/lps/dcr/law.html#LAD. Superintendent Bolden said she did not review the entire yearbook. But she had a legal obligation to do so, in order to determine whether what she proposed to do was discriminatory. She could easily have ordered that every kiss in the yearbook be flagged so she could review all such pictures. She did not do that but chose to jump to suppress an image of two boys kissing. She violated the law and vandalized thousands of dollars worth of books. It's time for her to go. Everyone offended by this should write to Governor Corzine to demand her ouster: http://www.state.nj.us/governor/govmail.html.
I'll write to the Governor myself when I have time. I should also see if Mayor Booker has email. Bolden is a State appointee; Newark does not have control of its schools yet. But Booker can put pressure on the State to oust her — as might, incidentally, empower him to put someone of his own choosing into that key spot!
Gay men have lifted marginal neighborhoods all over this country, and Newark could surely benefit from an influx of gay people. Shows of antigay bigotry by someone high in local government hurt the future of Newark, more than just the feelings of the students offended. At least the kids had the good sense to be offended. Do Newarkers generally?
(This is borrowed from my Newark fotoblog.)

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